Georgie and I have trekked twice to Western Mass. recently to check out green buildings (though the first time, we had the added incentive of attending our niece's 7th birthday party.
On that trip, I was struck by one commonality of three of our stops: Perhaps the most attractive, striking place architecturally was Maria Chao's house [below]. There are green features, such as her Munchkin boiler, but its design is a very strong green element: lots of south-facing glass, solar mass, etc. Maria is an architect, and previously lived in Virginia, working with William McDonough.
The most advanced installation was Bob Gutowski's [below]. He had four sets of panels — three PV, one hot water — plus a 2KW turbine. He also is the broadcaster for a low-power FM station he's a member of — that's where most of the solar goes. He has been tinkering with and adding to his system since 1981. Bob's job is as technician for the FAA, maintaining one of the radar stations that tracked the flights of Sept. 11.
I'm not sure I've gotten enough of the third place yet, even though it's the only place we revisited on our return trip a week later. Incredibly, we had to leave before we were ready both times because of the press of family matters. It is a B&B [below] operated by John Clapp and Dee Boyle-Clapp. John is a builder, and built the house himself.
They tell the anecdote that the electric utility told them it would cost $30,000 to bring the lines in, and when they declined, the utility said, "OK, how about $15,000?" But they say say paid only $11,000 for their entire setup — the panels, the inverter, and the deep-cycle battery array, though it's true they're now looking at upgrading the panels and getting new batteries.
In order, that's an architect, an electronics technician, and a builder. I'd characterize only Gutowski's as hobbyist (though still quite sophisticated), but in all three cases, the owners had special expertise that made their projects more possible for them than the same work would be for you and me.
Yes, we saw other places that were simply contracted for, but the visits left a clear picture of the recent, early-adopter-only past.